There is a clear incompatibility between Canadian health care policies and the increasing scope of international trade and investment treaties. Canada’s public health insurance system and the regulations around who can provide health care services and on what terms (including the Canada Health Act) cut against the grain of such treaties, which, in contrast to Medicare, tend to place the ability to make profits before the needs of citizens.
Consequently, successive Canadian governments have negotiated exemptions for health care in Canada’s trade and investment agreements. These exemptions, while flawed, are vital in ensuring Canadian governments’ ability to maintain existing health measures and to adopt new health measures that might otherwise be challenged under international trade and investment treaties.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) currently being negotiated by Canada and the European Union threatens to erode Canada’s existing protections for health care. There is an urgent need to raise awareness of this threat and to build support for a broad exemption that would fully shield the Canadian health care system.